The Lea Michele-Beanie Feldstein ‘Funny Girl’ Drama Is So Juicy

This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.I have to admit my negligence.We’ve posted some great coverage this week of the juicy story of Lea Michele replacing Beanie

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This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.

I have to admit my negligence.

We’ve posted some great coverage this week of the juicy story of Lea Michele replacing Beanie Feldstein as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. I was editing one of them. I had to pause because my alarm went off reminding me to buy a ticket to see Michele’s first performance. I am now the owner of a very expensive theater ticket—and feel a little sheepish about it, not just because I wonder how I’m going to pay my credit card bill.

I have lapped up every morsel of this theater drama. (Have you read Tim Teeman’s reporting on it for The Daily Beast? Do so immediately!) I’m not proud of how delicious I find all the gossip and rumors. There are real people involved! This shouldn’t be my primary source of entertainment! And yet, the mess of it all—producers leaking conflicting accounts, one actress being publicly and unfairly embarrassed, and another actress’ past bad behavior called into question—is too delectable for a Hollywood obsessive to resist.

If you’re a normal person who does not have a Google Alert set for “Lea Michele,” “Beanie Feldstein,” and “Funny Girl” then allow me to give you a short rundown of what’s happening.

The revival of Funny Girl opened in April, the first time the show had been mounted on Broadway since Barbra Streisand starred in the original 1964 production. That’s a big deal! Conventional wisdom was that the show was never brought back because the shadow of Streisand’s performance loomed too large. As someone who saw this new production of Funny Girl in April… I can say that was a fair concern!

For years, people assumed that a production starring Lea Michele would materialize. Not since Sean Young wandered around Hollywood in a Catwoman costume has an actor so publicly auditioned for a role. Starring in Funny Girl was written into Glee. She performed a classic number at the Tony Awards. By the time Glee wrapped, she’d put her mark on nearly the entire score.

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As the years went by, this no-brainer of a casting never came to be. What did arrive, however, was a tidal wave of reports about Michele’s alleged bad behavior on the set of Glee. Former castmates spoke about Michele’s bullying, microaggressions, and inappropriate outbursts. When it was announced that a Funny Girl revival was happening, it was no surprise that Michele was no longer the frontrunner for the lead role.

There was a lot of hoopla—official industry term—surrounding Feldstein’s casting. The Booksmart star had even dressed as Fanny Brice for a birthday party at 3 years old, which is one of those “you can’t make this up” Hollywood stories that was so adorable we all were willing to gloss over the fact that it is an incredibly strange costume for a 3-year-old.

But then the reviews came. They were not great! Because this is America in 2022 and nuance has gone extinct, measured criticism of her performance morphed into social media chatter about her being disastrous in the role, with rumors flying about how she couldn’t sing. That wasn’t entirely fair. She was… fine as Fanny. Her voice is not Barbra Streisand’s voice, but she’s a competent singer and certainly her acting work was fantastic. The production itself was such a hollow bore that it left her more vulnerable to those harsh judgments.

According to reports, the negative reviews impacted ticket sales and producers scrambled to save the show. Feldstein announced that she would be leaving before her contract was over, presumably a move negotiated with producers who wanted a casting refresh. But then, the drama! A report leaked that Michele was in talks to take over! Feldstein dropped a surprise Instagram announcement that she’d be leaving at the end of the month! Minutes later, the official Funny Girl Twitter account posted that they’d be making a new casting announcement on Tuesday! I set my alarm to buy tickets for what was surely going to be a Lea Michele Funny Girl!

The Gossip Gods rarely bless us in the way they have this week. “There’s a lot of screaming,” read one report, which compared being backstage at Funny Girl Tuesday night to “being one of the Senators hiding on January 6. Really ugly, everyone is afraid.” Teeman’s Daily Beast article reported how some producers had wanted to fire Feldstein from the moment reviews came in. And then there’s this: Feldstein and Michele apparently share the same agent. My man was negotiating one client’s exit and the other’s replacement contract.

I think Beanie Feldstein is incredibly talented, so I’m not enjoying that this turmoil involves her. But there is something that’s sort of nostalgic about all this gossiping. It feels very Joan Crawford/Bette Davis.

I think Beanie Feldstein is incredibly talented, so I’m not enjoying that this turmoil involves her. But there is something that’s sort of nostalgic about all this gossiping. It feels very Joan Crawford/Bette Davis.

This kind of drama used to be common with the big musical theater personalities. If Patti LuPone was feuding with someone, it made its way into the press. It was almost like another part of the industry—an added element of the entertainment of “showbiz.” Now, with publicists sanitizing and controlling everything that gets said, this loose-lipped truth-telling is unheard of. The library is open. The tea is being spilled. The gossip hounds have been unleashed. Other clichés that indicate that this is all very juicy.

It’s also something that is really difficult to have a stark, unchallenged opinion on. Can you be someone, for example, who thought that Feldstein wasn’t given a fair shake, is excited for Michele to take over, and finds it problematic that she’s given an opportunity for a comeback given all the allegations against her? Well, no. Again, this is America in 2022. Conflicting opinions and measured, reasoned thinking is not allowed.

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But that is the case here. Obviously Michele is going to be so good in this role, and it is gratifying to see it happen for her after years of being so associated with the musical. I’m very excited to see her performance. I maxed out my credit card for the occasion. It’s possible, too, that she’s done the soul-searching and self-analysis needed after being called out for her past behavior. But also, maybe it’s not entirely fair for her to be given another chance when the allegations are so egregious. Who does and does not get these opportunities is something important to consider.

It’s complicated! It’s a lot to think about! And I will be thinking about it constantly between now and September 6, when I have my problematic ticket to see Michele’s first performance.

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